That's how Bethlehem resident Dave Capuano woke up early one morning a few years ago. Fortunately, the yelling was not intended for him, his wife, or children. The shouting was instead directed at a young man, who lived in a garage across the alley, and was vainly trying to hide from his girlfriend.
Capuano was describing life as a next door neighbor to Bethlehem's Elias Farm Market, located at 3131 Linden Street. In addition to the market, numerous young tenants were renting out garage bays, where they'd work on their cars late at night.
Gus Elias, stuck with these tenants by a prior owner, gradually ended those leases. "Do you realize the money I could make there?" he asked. "I don't want the money. I want to improve the property. But we never had a chance to tell our story."
Judge Edward Smith and Planning Chair Lawrence Krauter have both suggested that Elias do that, especially with those who oppose the planned expansion of his popular produce store. Tell his story is exactly what Elias did during a August 29 open house, conducted at the store. He was joined by Joe Elias, George Azar and numerous wives, sons and nephews of this large, talkative and cheerful Lebanese family. Unfortunately, the people who need to hear that story most- the ones who've filed legal roadblocks to his proposed expansion - were unable to attend.
Elias' Bethlehem store - there's another in Allentown - employs around twenty people. At this time of the year, 70% of their fruit and produce is obtained locally. But as they explained yesterday, they have three problems. First, a fire has ravaged their largest outbuilding, which needs to be demolished and rebuilt. Second, their single loading dock, located at the bottom of a steep ramp, is prone to flooding and ice, making it extremely unsafe. Finally, their warehouse, if it can be called that, is simply too small.
In a tour of the store yesterday, the Elias family and engineer Steve Pany went over their plans to improve their store. It started with their "warehouse," which is smaller than the break room at most grocery stores. "Our warehouse in Allentown makes this one look like a shed," said Elias.
Partner George Azar showed seven crates of watermelon that are sitting outside because there simply is no room inside the store. Eventually, some of that produce will have to be discarded. His wife Najwa said they have no choice. "We have fresh produce and good prices," she said. "The only way we can do that is by buying a lot."
This explains their need for a larger warehouse, and Elias points to the burned out building as the perfect place to build it. They also want an enclosed, three-bay, loading dock leading to that warehouse. This has raised concerns that what they really plan is a distribution center.
The entire family, at various points during the tour, denied that possibility. "We don't sell wholesale," noted Elias. "If I wanted to build a distribution center, I'd build one; but it wouldn't be here."
With a three-bay loading dock, George Azar explained their two trucks would always be parked next to the dock, with room for a third truck to make deliveries. This would reduce the need to move trucks in and out as deliveries come. The larger warehouse would also reduce the demand for as many deliveries, and would make it easier and safer for store employees to store and move inventory.
What about the current loading dock? What's wrong with that? "Today's a beautiful Sunday and you probably aren't thinking about this, but Hurricane Earl is coming later this week, and I'm really thinking about that, " said partner George Azar. "In a normal rainfall, this dock turn into a swimming pool in about five minutes. I have to pump this out to keep water out of the store." His wife, Najwa, added things are much worse in the winter, when the dock turns into an ice rink.
Elias explained his plans to enclose his lading dock and move and fence his trash bins. "We want out neighbors not to see or hear us. Not for us. For their benefit."
This farmers market, in 1929, was an 18 acre orchard that sold locally-grown apples, cherries, peaches, plums, and pears. In 2006, the Elias family took title, minus the orchard. Gus Elias spent $500,000 in renovations to the site. Many of the homes that now surround the market were originally a part of that orchard.
Because none of the opponents of the proposed expansion attended this open house, the Elias family will schedule another. Opponent Al Bernotas has suggested they meet at a "neutral" location, but the Elias family make the case - and it's a good one - that it is easier to understand a problem a its source.
"Come and hear us," Najwa Azar said. "We'll have as many meetings as we need. We'd like to hear what they need, and what we can do."